It’s official, major U.S. streamers including Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ could be regulated for the first time in the UK as part of proposals being considered by Boris Johnson’s government.
Ministers at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport have announced that they will consult on plans to subject the streaming giants to British broadcasting laws, bringing them in line with the BBC, ITV, Sky, and others.
The review was first floated over the weekend and has been launched in tandem with plans to assess whether The Great British Bake Off broadcaster Channel 4 should be privatized after it has been under public ownership since 1982.
The government said it will consider if rules need strengthening to ensure the streamers have appropriate content age ratings in place, and whether they should be subject to standards on impartiality and accuracy for documentaries and news programming.
UK media regulator Ofcom holds British broadcasters to certain standards on impartiality, fairness, and harm and offence, but the likes of Netflix and Amazon do not fall under its remit. Netflix, for example, is regulated in the Netherlands, its European headquarters.
Ministers added that they would also consider measures to “level the playing field so public service broadcasters can compete with international rivals.” The government was not specific about what this would involve, however.
Noting potential targets for regulation, the government namedropped Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video, which together have nearly 30M subscribers in the UK, according to Britain’s ratings’ authority, the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board.
The streamer regulation review will inform a white paper, which will pave the way for the biggest shake-up in broadcasting laws in 18 years. When the UK’s Communications Act was introduced in 2003, Netflix was still a DVD company in America and Amazon had just posted its first full-year profit.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age.
“The time has come to look at how we can unleash the potential of our public service broadcasters while also making sure viewers and listeners consuming content on new formats are served by a fair and well-functioning system.”
Netflix, Amazon, and Disney declined to comment. Sources close to Netflix indicated support for the regulation in what is its most important European market, where it spends $1 billion on originals. The streamer has already adopted British Board of Film Classification age ratings on its content.
“Netflix is supportive of the government’s intentions to bring the rules and regulations into the digital age and welcomes the broad direction of travel,” said a person familiar with its thinking.
The plans for regulation follow the UK government last week requesting that streamers share viewing figures with Ofcom for shows originated by British public service broadcasters, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5.
UK public service broadcasters are fighting for relevance in a market increasingly dominated by U.S. media giants, whose libraries are enriched by shows that started life on British TV, including Peaky Blinders, Fleabag, The End of the F***ing World, and Unforgotten.
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